From its inception in the early 1960s, Pop Art was a boys’ club. Huge names like Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann perpetuated the myth of the (male) artist-as-genius. The movement emerged amid the post-World War II explosions of capitalist consumerism and mass media, as artists explored new modes of mechanical production, often by taking commonplace consumer goods and pop-cultural icons as their subject matter. Associated with an unemotional, distanced attitude toward artmaking, Pop Art’s codified characteristics are, in turn, stereotypically male.

For female artists participating in the movement, cultivating a persona as a so-called serious artist seemed like the only way to succeed. An alternative strategy was to (often cheekily) critique Pop Art and its workings from the inside out. In many cases, though, these strategies were interpreted as playing by the rules rather than challenging them, and, more often than not, these routes failed to reward female artists with a lasting place in the mainstream. Now, however, with the nuances of their practices better understood, female artists from around the globe are gaining more recognition for their contributions and challenges to Pop Art.

Associated with the Pop movement to varying extents, the following 11 women artists (by no means an exhaustive list) all engaged with its motivations and defining characteristics, some by expanding the genre through feminist inflection, others by working along its margins.

Rosalyn Drexler

Drexler has described the unstated narratives in her work as “a kind of music.” Yet her bold, color-block paint-and-paper collages on canvas read like flattened film scenes, with distinct references to gangsters, King Kong, and Marilyn Monroe. In 1964, she was included—as was Strider—in the “First International Girlie Show” at Pace Gallery, along with Warhol, Wesselmann, and Lichtenstein. Still, she wasn’t well known in that decade, and she thought of herself mainly as a writer, especially when comparing her work and career with those of her friends Franz Kline and Willem and Elaine de Kooning.

In addition to writing—she holds three Obie Awards for playwriting—Drexler was a professional wrestler, perhaps reflected in her piece The Winner (1965). Painting over collaged found photographs, she injects a personal narrative and leaves traces of the creative process, complicating the mechanized production typically associated with Pop.

 

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